The Pharaoh’s Treasure: The Origin of Paper and the Rise of Western Civilization

John Gaudet. Pegasus, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-68177-853-2
Ecologist and papyrus expert Gaudet (Papyrus: The Plant That Changed the World) gives a fascinating, thought-provoking history of papyrus’s use in communication. He maintains that humanity’s “habit and expectation of writing things down became a hallmark of civilized life... thanks to papyrus.” His accessible and engagingly written account begins with the earliest known use of papyrus as a writing surface, during the reign of Pharaoh Khufu in the 26th century BCE. Recently discovered documents show it was used to track deliveries of limestone for the construction of the Great Pyramid. The technology spread beyond the Egyptians; papyri served as diaries, property records, census rolls, scientific and medical texts, and legal documents for the ancient Greeks and Romans. Papyrus paper became so vital that when supplies ran short in the Roman Empire in the first century CE, rationing was imposed to avoid significant disruptions to daily life. Gaudet calls upon a wide array of sources, both ancient texts and modern historians and archeologists, to support his contention persuasively. This argument that the use of papyrus for writing was a “key element of global cultural advancement” is an appealing addition to the genre of single-topic histories such as Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. Illus. Agent: Jacquelyn Flynn, Delbourgo Associates. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/29/2018
Release date: 10/01/2018
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-1-4456-8994-4
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